Australia: Koalas added to threatened species list

ABC News 1 May 12;

Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT are being classified as vulnerable and added to the threatened species list.

Koala numbers have dropped by 40 per cent in Queensland and by a third in New South Wales over the past 20 years. There are no wild koalas in the ACT.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says it is not a national listing because there are large koala populations in South Australia and Victoria.

"In Victoria and South Australia, koalas have actually been in such high numbers they've been eating themselves out of habitat. There's what you call population control measures going on there ... like sterilisation," he said.

"But in places like NSW and Queensland, their numbers have been taking a massive hit."

Mr Burke says a species is usually not considered endangered if it is bountiful in some locations.

"On a species as iconic as the koala, I really don't think I could have credibly said to the Australian people, 'oh don't worry, you might not have any more in Queensland the way things are going, but you can go to South Australia if you want to see one'," he said.

Mr Burke says the listings will be state wide and developers will have to take into account the changes when making building applications.

"If someone wants to make a development there is a tougher hurdle as a result of a species being endangered," he said.

"That is what environmental legislation is designed to do."

The Government has also announced $300,000 of new research funding to find out more about koala habitats.

But Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says the listing of koalas as a threatened species will add unnecessary green tape.

Mr Newman says the decision is at odds with the Federal Government's previous commitment to reduce regulations, and existing state protections could simply have been improved.

"It's more needless duplication, it's more mindless green tape, it's more delay and obstruction by Canberra and I just ask the Prime Minister to go and have a long hard look at what her government is trying to achieve," he said.

Not enough

The Australian Koala Foundation says it is a victory for Queensland and New South Wales.

But foundation CEO Deborah Tabart says the protection does not go far enough and the Federal Government has underestimated the danger koalas face.

She says she believes Mr Burke has been misinformed that there are 200,000 koalas in the wild.

"At the moment we're still of the opinion that there's not that many koalas, less than 100,000. Victoria still needs to be protected," she said.

"I'm delighted with this because it is going to slow things down, but it's not going to save our koalas."

It is the fourth time since 1996 the Government's advisory group, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), has considered the koala's situation.

Ms Tabart says she wants to see the science the decision is based on.

"We have offered our maps to Minister Burke, $8 million worth, 26,000 man hours, 100,000 trees, 2,000 field sites," she said.

"So for me to see money thrown into mapping, $300,000, I still want to see the science. We've never seen any science from the TSSC. We just usually get a letter that says yes or no."

Australia lists the koala as a threatened species
Koala populations in parts of the country face a 'serious threat' from urban expansion and climate change, government says
Oliver Milman 30 Apr 12;

The Australian government has listed the koala as a threatened species in parts of the country for the first time, admitting that the species faces a "serious threat" from factors such as urban expansion and climate change.

Koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have been placed on the national list of vulnerable species, following intervention by environment minister, Tony Burke, on Monday.

The listing, designed to provide a barrier to development in areas where koalas are threatened, is aimed at halting a precipitous drop in numbers that has seen the species decline by 40% in Queensland and by one-third in NSW over the past two decades.

The decision by Burke follows a Senate report released last year that made 19 recommendations, including listing the species as threatened in certain areas of the country and boosting the funding for koala monitoring.

The report outlined numerous threats to the koala, including climate change, disease and habitat loss.

Fatal attacks on koalas by domesticated dogs were also cited as a problem, particularly during recent unusually warm summers, where the marsupial has been sighted in residents' gardens, unable to climb trees and drinking from swimming pools and water bowls.

Koala populations have been under pressure for some time, with many hunted to near extinction in eastern Australia by early European settlers for the fur trade.

The species also suffers from a limited diet of eucalypts, which has been aggressively cleared for urban development. Meanwhile, the remaining eucalypts' nutritional value has been tarnished by increased CO2 in the atmosphere, leading the IUCN to list the koala as one of the 10 most vulnerable species in the world to climate change.

"Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community," Burke said. "People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations. Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease."

"However, koala numbers vary significantly across the country, so while koala populations are clearly declining in some areas, there are large, stable or even increasing populations in other areas."

"In fact, in some areas in Victoria and South Australia, koalas are eating themselves out of suitable foraging habitat and their numbers need to be managed."

"But the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory koala populations are very clearly in trouble, so we must take action. "

While environmental groups have welcomed Burke's decision, concern has been raised that the minister failed to include Victoria and South Australia in the threatened species listing.

Larissa Waters, environment spokesperson for the Australian Greens, said: "It would have made more sense to give the koala a national listing, instead of waiting for koala populations in South Australia and Victoria to fall into decline without protection, like those in Queensland and New South Wales."

"We now need a prompt, comprehensive and well-enforced recovery plan to get the koala back off the threatened species list, and we need protection for other species not as famous as the koala but still sliding closer to extinction every day."

There is also dispute over the exact number of koalas left in the wild. The federal government estimates there are around 200,000 remaining koalas, but the Australian Koala Foundation has challenged this figure.

The foundation's chief executive, Deborah Tabart, told ABC news: "At the moment we're still of the opinion that there's not that many koalas, less than 100,000. Victoria still needs to be protected."

"I'm delighted with this because it is going to slow things down, but it's not going to save our koalas."